The most commonly asked questions for fertility patients during the Coronavirus pandemic

IVFBabble is monitoring the advice and guidance being issued by all official bodies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we want to share the information being put forth by the UK’s governing body, the HFEA

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is a UK government authority that regulates fertility clinics and ensures that they comply with all relevant laws. During this challenging time, tens of thousands of fertility patients across the UK have had their treatments cancelled or postponed indefinitely. The HFEA has compiled a list of frequently asked questions to help these individuals and couples to deal with their uncertainty, disappointment, and stress.

We have compiled and summarised these FAQs in order to help our readers understand the steps that the HFEA is taking to get fertility treatments back on track.

Why has the HFEA mandated the suspension of treatments?

The HFEA took the unprecedented decision to instruct all UK clinics that they should not begin any new treatment cycles, and complete all ongoing treatments no later than 15 April 2020. They based their decision on the guidance from a number of bodies around the world, and that of UK professional fertility organisations.

Many clinics redeployed their staff to help with ongoing pandemic treatments in hospitals and lost staff due to self-isolation or sickness. Fertility treatments were not the only medical services deemed as non-urgent. The NHS and most private hospitals made a similar decision about all non-emergency surgery, which was ceased by 15 April.

What is currently happening with the HFEA?

The HFEA is currently working alongside patients, clinics, and professional organisations to determine plans that will enable fertility patients to get back to their treatments as soon as is possible. The Board is meeting weekly online to discuss plans in line with the most up to date government guidelines.

What criteria will need to be met for fertility clinics to reopen?

The HFEA meets regularly, and they will be responsible for making the decision to reopen clinics. The HFEA met on April 21 in order to create a list of criteria that will need to met before clinics can reopen. The list of criteria is published here.

They will meet again this week to assess all current information and guidance from UK, European and American Professional bodies.

What will clinics have to before they can reopen?

When the decision is made to reopen clinics, the HFEA will send out their inspection teams to ensure that clinics are ready and equipped to meet all of the new criteria. They must be able to demonstrate that they can give their patients and staff a safe place to conduct and participate in treatments.

Will clinics be able to offer their diagnostic services, including blood tests and/or semen analyses before they are allowed to formally restart treatments?

Clinics will only be able to offer diagnostic services if they can be completed within the wider lockdown instructions, including avoiding unnecessary travel.

Will clinics prioritise certain groups of patients when they reopen?

When the HFEA greenlights the reopening of clinics, it will be up to each individual clinic to decide which treatments they will resume, and on what timeline.  Most clinics will likely pick up where they left off on their waitlists. Your clinic will certainly be in touch to let you know their plans

I am hoping to start treatments soon, but I am not on any waitlists. What can I do?

Many UK clinics are offering video and telephone calls in order to conduct initial consultations.

I need additional NHS investigations (for example, a laparoscopy or surgical sperm retrieval). What will happen?

The HFEA does not have any current information about when the NHS will commence their treatments, but we do predict that there will be a backlog.

I am coming close to my 10-year storage limit for my eggs/sperm/embryos. Will I be allowed to use them if my storage limit occurs during the treatment hiatus?

Thankfully, the UK Government has extended the current 10-year storage limit for embryos and gametes by two years. You will therefore not be penalised if your treatments are suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

How will clinics be able to keep patients safe when they reopen?

The HFEA will not allow clinics to reopen until they can do so safely. This means that we will mandate strict social distancing, PPE usage, and COVID-19 testing for all clinic staff.

If my treatment was delayed, will the NHS still provide me with funding?

The HFEA has no control over NHS policies and funding, but we hope that they all patients will be permitted to continue their treatment and that no one will be penalised for this pandemic.

The team here at IVFBabble is so happy to see such clear and strong guidance from the HFEA at this time. We know that some aspects of it are rather vague, but it is encouraging that they have put such time, effort, and detail into their FAQs in what are very difficult and frustrating times for us all.

The HFEA have today said “We know that many patients are understandably concerned about when treatment can resume. We are working towards a date and our board is meeting this week to review new guidance, including guidance from ESHRE and ASRM, which will help us lift the restrictions as soon as possible.”

We will keep you up to date with information following this meeting.

We know that this is an incredibly stressful and difficult time for anyone dealing with infertility. We hope that this information will help to ease some of your concerns at this time.

Remember to prioritise self-care and seek online counselling services to talk about your struggles with infertility

We are here for you at this time and if you have any queries you would like to ask some of the world’s leading experts, we would love you to join us on The Cope Talks each Wednesday. Our second episode is taking place today at 5 pm (UK time) and 12 pm (EDT). Click here to register and if you would like to ask any questions but would prefer not to ask directly yourself, just email us at cope@ivfbabble.com x

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